The heels of my tired shoes clatter discordantly
On the newly flagged pavements
As I walk the streets that bred generations of chain makers.
Above, the clouds are grey and heavy
Like the leaden pall of smoke
That once engulfed the demolished terraced houses.
Little remains of the brick wall that surrounded the barren garden
And enfolded a crumbling chain shop
With soot-blackened hearths and blackbird nested chimneys.
A bellows, holed and discarded, rested by the wall,
While coiled in a corner lay a discarded snake skin
Of heavy russet and brown and grey links.
In my mind's eye I see the red-hot coals
And hear the clash of iron on iron.
I feel the cold embers crunch underfoot.
Involuntarily I flinch as death-dealing sparks fly by
And sizzle to their deaths in a bucket of oily, rainbow water.
A faint wisp of steam marks their passing.
I see vague figures through the mists of time,
Fathers and sons, brothers and cousins,
Standing beside each other,
All wearing be-grimed waistcoats and thick, protective aprons.
Their rolled shirtsleeves show thews
That could lift one, two and three-handed hammers.
Each long, gruelling day takes its toll
Leaving another indelible mark on their faces.
Sweat beads sparkle in the light of the burning coals
Like exquisite jewels scattered over a soiled landscape.
But in a flash the magic is gone, and grubby runnels
Are wiped by weary, calloused hands.
They stand before me, these men, bent and fatigued,
Old before their time,
But barely discernible and hidden by the fog of ignorance,
Are women and children,
Their tiny hammers making tiny chain,
The unexpectedness of it takes my breath away.
These are the men and women and children
Who helped to forge an Empire
Now, they're nameless and forgotten and I wonder:
Am I the only one to notice their wisps of steam?
Alison R Reed